Susan Walters is a beautiful woman who knows what she wants -- and gets it. In 1983, the actress, then starring as Lorna Forbes Conway on the ABC soap Loving, spotted a devastatingly handsome, blond actor she'd never seen before on the set and told herself, "That's the man I'm going to marry."
The man was Linden Ashby, a day player making a single appearance on the soap. This week, almost 15 years later, Walters joins Ashby on primetime's Melrose Place. This time, Ashby is a star of the series (as Dr. Brett Cooper) and Walters plays the newcomer (woman-with-a-secret Christine Denton). She'll appear for at least eight episodes.
And in case you're wondering, yes, Walters is now Mrs. Linden Ashby.
Walters' marital premonition became a reality not long after she met Ashby, although there was a romantic hiatus, to be sure. Now, over lunch in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, she recalls their courtship with a bemused smile and a faraway look in her light-blue eyes.
Dressed in a long-sleeved, mid-calf, black velvet dress, her medium-length dark hair framing a lovely, delicate face, Walters brings to mind Priscilla Presley -- whom she played in the TV movie Elvis and Me 10 years ago.
In a voice that gives a little evidence of her Atlanta childhood, Walters says, "I'd been on Loving for eight months when I first saw Linden. I knew I'd marry him the moment I set eyes on him. I remember every detail. Exactly what he looked like, what he was wearing, his body position, everything. It was bizarre. I looked at him and it was like, 'Whoa!' I told the makeup artist, 'I'm going to marry that guy.'"
How did Walters know he wasn't a homicidal maniac? "I didn't stop to think about anything," she confesses. "I just knew he was the right man for me. I wasn't even looking for romance. Certainly not on a TV show. It was like bang!
"Linden came on to play a college guy in a fraternity-party episode. It was strange. Were were in the same scene, on stage together for hours, but I didn't speak to him the whole day, and he didn't speak to me. I ended up chatting with this other guy, then we all went out to lunch. Linden and I still didn't exchange a word. I thought he believed I was stupid.
"Then the other guy, John Allen Nelson, asked me out. He took me to Linden's apartment for a party that night. Even then Linden and I didn't speak, but I remember the girl he was with, a slutty redhead. I told myself, 'Forget it.'
"I didn't give Linden much thought after that, but we'd run into each other around New York from time to time and say hello. I can't say my attraction was a deep passion. It was an awareness, almost a factual acceptance. I don't know why I'm talking like this. Maybe by the time this story is printed, Linden will have dumped me for some hot chick, you know? And here's this whole story about our love life!
"I remember once during that time I went to a play and heard someone behind me laugh. I turned around and, boom! It was Linden sitting there.
"About two years later, he joined Loving as a regular (as Curtis Alden). He had a girlfriend and I wasn't interested in dating anyone I was working with. That lasted a month. We attended the same acting class and went out one night afterward. We chatted and admitted we'd had crushes on each other since that first day on the set a couple of years earlier.
"After that, things got passionate. We knew we were in love. Three days later, we moved in together. It didn't take long for the writers to quit putting us in the same scenes because when we looked at each other, sparks flew. It was hot. That was how I was supposed to look at my love interest on the show. But I kept looking at that poor guy like, 'Whaaat?'
"The network got letters saying my character and Linden's should get together," Walters adds. "But we played cousins, so that couldn't work. Five months later, we were married, and a month after our wedding, I left the show. We began dating in the fall of '85 and married in the spring of '86."
Walters then holds up her left hand to display a glittering diamond engagement ring and a wedding band. "This is an upgrade," she says of the sizable sparkler. "Linden gave it to me when he got down on his knees and asked me to remarry him in front of our two daughters. Isn't that sweet? We didn't do it, but I kept the ring. I told him I wasn't one of those girls who throws the ring back at her husband."
So far, Walters and Ashby have had no screen contact on Melrose -- her character is in love with Kyle (Rob Estes). "Rob and I do a little kissing, but nothing passionate," Walters says. "I had to tape a makeout scene the day my mother-in-law visited the set, and that was uncomfortable. I asked her not to watch, and she didn't."
Nor has Walters watched Ashby's love scenes -- for the moment, his character is involved with Megan Mancini (Kelly Rutherford). "It's harder for me now watching Linden do love scenes than during our young, passionate days on Loving," the actress confesses.
"When you're as much in love as I was at 20, it's like when you're first pregnant -- you think you're the only pregnant woman. You know, singularly blessed. I'd see Linden in a love scene and think, yes, he's with her, but it doesn't meananything. But sometimes the actress would really overdo it when she knew I was watching. One actress knew how miserable I was with my guy on the show. What created a little animosity was that Linden was having a good time and he knew I wasn't.
"The good thing about soaps is, love scenes stop at the very early level. In movies, Linden's done scenes where he's really gone the distance. When you're younger and newly involved, you never think the man you love could get involved with an actress in a scene. Now, I'm older, wiser and not overconfident. I've been on too many sets. Those things can happen. After all, I fell in love with Linden on the set.
"I told Linden, 'If you end up with some chick from Melrose, it would be a clich?.' But he's so non-that. He's done movies that were really intense, which weren't difficult for me because when I was younger, I identified myself as an actress and Linden was part of that. Now I'm also a wife and mother; I'm not in the hottest-babe competition. I don't play that game the way I used to when I was younger.
"I'd never want to go back to what I was. The other day at a photo shoot, wearing a sizzle outfit, I wondered why, at 20, when my goods were better, I didn't have as much fun in those kinds of clothes."
Walters is no stranger to Melrose. She's watched the show since its inception and several times visited the set, where Ashby introduced her to the cast. It made life easer than when she reported for the series The Big Easy in 1996 (she costarred for two seasons as Anne Osborn).
In recent years, she's also done the TV movies Two Came Back, Texas Justice and XXX's & OOO's -- and the feature film Til There Was You.
All that, in addition to rearing daughters Grace, 6 1/2, and Savannah, 5. "I take them with me when I'm on location," she says. "Melrose works out well for our family. It keeps Linden and me in town. We both like working for Aaron Spelling. He's been very good to me. I worked for him in Nightingales in 1989. And it's nice working with Heather Locklear. We made the miniseries Texas Justice together. She IS Melrose Place. I haven't done a scene with her, but she's great.
"I feel comfortable on this show, which is a very different experience than when I reported to Loving as a teenager. That was my first job. It began as a TV movie with Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Page. I was young and clueless. I inadvertently got in Lloyd's key light for 10 takes in a row. The crew made fun of me, saying: 'Give her a sandbag for her foot.'
"I said, 'What a great idea.' I was too dumb to know that was an insult. I thought they should do it. And they did. Today, I still ask for a sandbag. The camera people love me. They can set up intricate shots and know I'll hit my marks.
"At home, Linden and I sometimes run lines for each other. We have fun and we fight. Early in our marriage, I worked more than Linden did. Now he works more than I do. Actresses work more in their 20s than they do in their 30s. It's the opposite with men.
"Besides, I don't want to work out of town, so I don't try for projects that go on location. My kids will never be 5 and 6 again, and I don't want to miss those years.
"Linden and I have been married for 12 years now, so I guess my intuition when I first saw him was absolutely right."